Here is a statement that the left and right would generally agree on:
Liberals and conservatives are moving farther apart, with less common ground than ever before.
Yet conversely, here is a statement that the left and right in the United States would also generally agree on:
A free market economy is the best way to arrange the exchange of goods and services. But for those who fall on hard times or are unable to provide for themselves, the government should provide a safety net.
The majority of Americans, left and right, would agree with that statement about free markets and government. They would then begin to disagree on what else the government should or shouldn’t do, but they would at least start with that common ground.
That is not true in other parts of the free world, by the way. In Europe and elsewhere there are potent right-wing nationalist movements, and significant and powerful leftist movements. In the US, we really don’t have that, fortunately. True, there is some leftism now coming from the Democratic Party, but it is mostly the faddish whining of spoiled First Worlders. (And when was the last time you met an honest-for-true communist? And if you did, wouldn’t it be almost quaint? “A Marxist?” you would say. “Really? Fighting the plutocrats, right? Well that’s just super.”)
And when was the last time you read about a conservative who was so anti-government as to decline their social security check? And while there is some problematic anti-trade activity from Donald Trump and his supporters, the US, again, has nothing comparable to Europe’s xenophobic and militaristic right wingers.
So why, then, does our nation seem so filled with partisan hatred? Why so much anger? Partly it is because the anger arising out of an argument is often inversely proportionate to the significance of the dispute. Our agreement on the big issues may make the areas of disagreement seem larger than they are. The old saw is that academic committee meetings generate so much anger precisely because the issues being debated are so minor.
But mostly, the heat and hate are the result of politicians trying to get votes. “The whole aim of practical politics,” said H. L. Mencken, “is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
And in Mencken’s day (first half of the 20th Century), the populace could only be kept alarmed via a daily newspaper and maybe an hour’s evening news on the radio. Is it any wonder people today are even more frightened, with 24-hour news and opinions coming at them from every television, cell phone and computer screen?
So when politicians say the world will be destroyed if the other side gets into power, remember something: They have an incentive to scare you. If they get you adequately frightened and enraged, they get your vote. Don’t fall for it. There is more common ground than they let on.